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JLJCi 1 ^JtX W \JJv 1 Jtl 

a town 

OH 21 


a town 


on a 


Garden City 1898 


a town built on a book 

"In these days of strong party feeling and of keenly con- 
tested social and religious issues, it might perhaps be thought 
difficult to find a single question having a vital bearing upon 
national life and well-being on which all persons, no matter 
of what political party, or of what shade of sociological 
opinion, would be found to be fully and entirely agreed." 

So begins the book To-morrow: a Peaceful Path to Real 
Reform by Ebenezer Howard, published by Swan Sonnen- 
schein & Q). Ltd, London, in 1898. Within four years this 
remarkable book, renamed Garden Cities of To-morroWy had 
run to its third edition, and had caused the formation of the 
Garden Qty Pioneer Company Limited on 16 July 1902. 

The book contained plans and diagrams of the ideal 
Garden City". On the comer of "First Avenue" and 
Milton Road" in this geometrical ideal, there is a printing 
works; facing the town hall across the garden in "Central 
Park" there is the library. 

First Garden Qty Ltd was registered on i September 
1903, being "formed to develop an estate of about 3,800 
acres, between Hitchin and Baldock". 

In November of that year, " as no premises were at that 
time available on the estate. The Garden Qty Press Ltd 
commenced business in Bancroft, Hitchin, on premises 
situated in the tanyard of Messrs Geo. W. Russell & Son. It 
was here that the first newspaper connected with the estate 
was published, but its birth proved premature, and after an 
existence of a few months it was laid to rest." 

The construction of Letchworth Garden City began in the 
spring of the following year, and in November 1905, with 
the opening of their new printing works in Pixmore Avenue, 
The Garden City Press Ltd became the pioneers of the 


town's industries. It is interesting to note that this company 
was established as a co-partnership which flourished until 
1 91 7 when the majority of the 'partners' had been called up 
for war service. 

Development of the first Garden Qty proceeded rapidly, 
and the need for cultural and social contacts among the new 
garden citi2ens found many forms of expression. On Whit 
Monday 1906 Mr Arthur Bates opened a small lending 
library in an ante-room of the Mrs Howard Memorial Hall, 
barely a month old, in Norton Way South. At first the 
entire stock consisted of review copies of the works of 
Charles Dickens and Sir Walter Scott, bought with a dona- 
tion of £5 from Mr Howard D. Pearsall. To start with, the 
library was open only on Saturdays, but as stock and demand 
increased, it began to open for one hour on three evenings 
each week, and it was manned entirely by voluntary help. 

On I August 1906 the firm of Wheeler, Odell & Co., 
printers, was established, and on that date the first number 
of the hetchworth Magazine was published from their tem- 
porary premises in Green Lane, under the joint editorship of 
Mr Charles B. Purdom and Mr Fred J. Cole. This was fol- 
lowed on 22 September 1906 by the first number of the 
Citiz^y edited by Mr W. H. Knight, to be succeeded in the 
second number by Mr Arthur William Brunt who remained 
editor until 191 2. 

August also saw the start of the building of the Temple 
Press, a printing and bookbinding factory for J. M. Dent & 
Sons Ltd, the book publishers who, following the success of 
their new Everyman's Library, had decided to transfer their 
bindery from London. 

By July 1907 no fewer than five printers and publishers 
were included in the first edition of the Ijetchworth Garden 
City Directory, The newcomers included the Arden Press, a 
Leamington firm with an established reputation for fine 
book printing, and the binding department of the book- 
sellers W. H. Smith & Son, under the control of Mr 
Douglas Cockerell, an expert of world-wide celebrity. 
Smith's acquired control of the Arden Press in the following 
year, but all their Letchworth buildings were taken over by 
the Ministry of Munitions during the First World War. 

Another change came in 191 1, with the conversion of 
Wheeler, Odell & Co. to Letchworth Printers Ltd, amid the 
growing demands for the printed word from the rapidly 
increasing population of the town. 

Next year the proposal was made that the four-year-old 
parish council should become a library authority by adopting 
the Public Libraries Act. This was defeated by an opposition 
led by the Letchworth barrister Dr Mervyn Gilbart-Smith, 
who felt that the town's economy could not then support a 
library, even with the help of the Carnegie United Kingdom 

Nevertheless, three years later the Letchworth Book Club 
came into being as an appendage to the library, as a result of 
a meeting held at Dr Gilbart-Smith's house. Under this 
scheme many Letchworth residents who had more than two 
hundred books of their own made them available for loan 
through the lending library. There was a central catalogue, 
compiled by Dr Gilbart-Smith himself, of the six thousand 
books involved in this scheme, which attracted some atten- 
tion as a forerunner in miniature of the national inter-library 
loan service of today. The club's income was made up from 
subscriptions, weekly payments for books, and fines. 

The year after the war, with the Garden Qty's population 
up to 10,000, Letchworth Urban District Council came into 
existence, and the demand for new Ubrary accommodation 
brought about the acquisition of a room over Mr R. W. 
Smith's joiner's workshop in Commerce Lane. 

Through the initiative of the Rev. Dugald Macfadyen a 
larger room over two shops in Commerce Avenue was 
erected, and inaugurated by a lecture on Shelley given by a 
well-known Hertfordshire resident, Mr George Bernard 

A co-educational school, "in keeping with the spirit and 
outlook of the Garden Qty", had been established in 
Letchworth in the earliest days, and in 191 6 the printing 
craft which originated as a subject for senior pupils was of 
such a standard that a separate concern was formed, and 
St Christopher Press took its place in the industrial life of 
the town. Both Miss A. J. Lawrence and Mr A. W. Brunt 
offered a great deal of practical help and encouragement to 

Utcbwtrtb PMil Ubrary 

the young early enthusiasts at the Cloisters private press. 

The same year saw the re-establishment, in Letchworth, 
of a bookbinding business under Mr Douglas Cockerell: 
this time a private bindery at his own house in Norton Way 
South, with his sons. Douglas Cockerell "had probably 
more influence on bookbinding practice and design than 
any one man has had before ". So wrote Roger Powell, him- 
self a partner at Letchworth for some years, in the Dictionary 
of National biography. 

Wireless aerials were appearing on roofs in Letchworth as 
elsewhere, and there were predictions of decline in the 
importance of the printed word. Yet still the popular 
demand for reading matter continued to grow, and in 1924 
the Public Libraries Act was adopted by Hertfordshire 
Coimty Council. No immediate effect was seen in letch- 
worth, although in the following year the Urban District 
Coimcil itself became an official library authority with the 
adoption of the Act. An arrangement was made to take a 
loan collection of three thousand books — ^to be changed 
twice yearly— from the new Hertfordshire County Library, 
and in 1927 a collection of reference books was purchased 
by the town council and housed at the Museum. 

Letchworth Library and Book Club continued to flourish 
in the Commerce Avenue premises, lending books for a 
small sum per week in a similar way to the various commer- 
cial libraries in the town. Colonel J. M. Mitchell, secretary 
of the Carnegie United Kingdom Trust, remarked that the 
library service in Letchworth was very much better than 
could be provided in the ordinary way upon the rateable 
value of the town. Such was the result of the combined 
efforts of the residents who made their private collections 
available and the devoted service of the volimtary librarians, 
notably Mrs Dugald Macfadyen ink Edith Bates), who had 
assisted her father, Mr Arthur Bates, from the library's 
beginning in 1906. 

For its silver jubilee celebrations, Letchworth Library 
again welcomed Bernard Shaw, speaking on this occasion on 
"Libraries and the English Language". A "Young Folks' 
Library" extension was opened by Mrs Reginald Hine in 
1934. But the limitations of the book club scheme were 


becoming more apparent as industry in the town developed. 
The need to supply up-to-date scientific and technical 
information was a strong factor in the decision of the Urban 
District Council to appoint a full-time librarian. Miss M. N. 
Dale, in 1935, and to undertake the building of the new 
Public Library, which was opened by Mrs Dugald 
Macfadyen on 6 January 1939. 

The new building included a lecture hall on the first floor, 
but within a year of the opening this was requisitioned as a 
billeting office, and remained in this use until after the 
Second World War. 

The town continued to make a contribution to Hertford- 
shire County Council, in return for which the circulating 
stock was maintained in addition to the Urban Council's 
own stock of 16,000 books. 

At the outbreak of the Second World War Readers 
Union, a subsidiary company of J. M. Dent & Sons, moved 
its accounts, distribution office and warehouse to Letch- 
worth. Since then it has extended its activities by taking 
under its wing The Country, Sportsmans, Soccer, Science 
Fiction, Jazz, and Contemporary Fiction Book Clubs. These 
clubs supply to their members at privilege prices special 
editions of books which have been originally published at 
a higher price. 

The Garden Qty Press Ltd, which had expanded its book 
and journal printing and binding activities through the 
years, incorporated at Letchworth the work and many of 
the employees of their parent company Loxley Brothers Ltd, 
whose London premises had been destroyed by enemy action. 

The world-famed bindery of the Cockerells lost its 
founder on 25 November 1945, but his son, Mr Sydney 
Cockerell, continued production at Letchworth until he 
moved house and business to Grantchester nineteen years 

Post-war expansion began, significantly, with the estab- 
lishing of yet another printing firm in Letchworth, The 
Hive Printers Ltd, which is one of the smallest but one of 
the busiest in the Garden Qty. Plans for the expansion of 
Letchworth northwards into the "Grange estate" took 
shape; and demands on the library service grew with the 


effects of the 1944 Education Act, changes in leisute and 
living standards, and the stimulus of radio, cinema and the 
newly restored television service. 

Letchworth's final break with the County Library came 
in 1947, when the town library's own stock was large 
enough to end the "loam** collection. That September, 
"Qiildren's Book Week" was celebrated, with visits from 
several well-known authors making it still more popular 
than the first such week, two years earlier. Widening the 
scope to include adults, the '^Book Week'' of March 1949 
was opened by Miss Monica Dickens; and in accepting an 
invitation, Mr Robert Gibbings wrote: "'I feel that I owe 
so much in the production of my books to Letchworth, that 
I could not possibly ask a higher fee, and I gladly accept the 
terms you suggest." 

In 1953, the year of Letchworth's golden jubilee, the 
Public Library had a stock of 21,000 books, and an annual 
issue of 152,000. In December, Miss Dale resigned on 
leaving the town, and her deputy, Mr A. B. Drylie, became 
her successor, until he resigned in 1956, when the present 
librarian, Mr J. D. Scruby, was appointed. 

This same year saw the beginning of greater extensions to 
the North Hertfordshire Technical College (later renamed 
Letchworth CoUege of Technology), and the beginning of a 
new phase of library service for the area, with the close and 
increasing co-operation "without strings " of the college and 
town libraries. 

As these changes took place, the golden jubilee in 1956 of 
the library service in Letchworth passed unobserved. 

Concern was now for further expansion, to keep pace with 
the demands of the town's population, still only 70 per cent 
of the planned maximum. A small branch library for chil- 
dren was opened in Southfields in November 1957. Mr 
C. M. Crickmer, architect of the original building, was 
responsible for designing extensions to the Public Library 
and to the adjacent Museum, and these were opened by Sir 
Sydney Roberts in November 1962. It was a significant 
time in the history of Letchworth, for throughout that year 
local opinions had been imited in the successful campaign 
to bring about the Letchworth Garden City Corporation 


Act, which came into force on i January 1963, removing 
control of the town from First Garden Qty Ltd and its new 
board of directors. 

This was also celebrated as the diamond jubilee year of 
Letchworth, and at sixty-plus, the Garden City seemed to 
be nearing the completeness of its community shape, not 
so unrecognizably different from that envisaged by Ebenezer 

A new branch library was opened at the Grange Com- 
munity Centre in 1965, and some thought was given to the 
future possibility of another, to serve the rapidly growing 
^* Jackmans estate" in the south-east of the town, a develop- 
ment of the most advanced ideas of "neighbourhood 
planning", which added one more facet to the imique 
character of Letchworth. 

This town "built on a book" today houses some 27,000 
people and eighty industries, from steelfounding to swim- 
suits; and still die best represented trade is that of the 
printer and binder. Books printed in Letchworth are read 
all over the world, and recent years have seen the remarkable 
success of new and unique specialist publishing concerns, 
such as Harlejrford Publications, with their authoritative 
series on aviation history, and Bradda Books, publishers of 
Russian educational works. 

Dent's great output includes their remarkable Everyman's 
Library, and Everyman's Encyclopaedia^ to which many local 
people have contributed. A Letchworth resident, Mr John 
Armitage, is the British editor of a still more renowned 
work. Encyclopaedia Britannica. 

Reference and information services are developing fast, 
particularly through HERTIS, the County Library's Tech- 
nical Information Service, to which Letchworth has access 
through the College of Technology. The stock of the 
college library itself is around 15,000 books, with approxi- 
mately 400 periodicals. 

But still Letchworth homes house treasured private col- 
lections, such as the Sassoon Collection of Hebrew manu- 
scripts and early printed books, and Mr Kenneth Coram's 
collection of children's books covering the past two 


Three bookshops flourish in the town today: a branch of 
W. H. Smith & Son in Leys Avenue (opened in 1907), 
George BoUen in Station Road (opened in 1946), and 
David's Bookshop in Station Place (opened in 1963). And 
even though the small commercial library is almost a thing 
of the past, one was recently opened by Mrs Rhodes — ^in 
a room over R. W. Smith's workshop in Commerce Lane I 

Of the future of the library service, much depends on the 
Public Libraries and Museums Act 1964, which makes the 
provision of a comprehensive and efficient library service 
the duty of every library authority, and may cause changes in 
the status of some library authorities of less than 40,000 

Letchworth's planned maximum population is 32,000 — 
extended in the more recent County Plan to 34,000. The 
Public Library's annual issue of books is now nearing the 
400,000 mark; its stock, 60,000; but it remains to be seen 
how the library service of the first Garden City will stand 
in relation to the wider aspects of county and regional 
development. One thing is certain, that the garden citizens' 
personal interest in the production, reading and enjoyment 
of books will continue. * 




Howard, Ebenezer. Garden Cities of To-morrow (Edited by 
F. J. Osbom). Faber, 1946 edition. 


Purdon, C.B, The Garden City, Dent, 191 3. 

Purdom, C.B. The Building of Satellite Towns. Dent, two 
editions, 1925 and 1949. 


Brunt, A. W. Pageant of Tuetchwortb. 

Macfadyen, Dugaid. Sir Ebenezer Howard and the Town 
Planning Movement^ 1933. 

Furmston, W. G. Ancestral Jottings. i94(?). 

Purdom, CB. Ufe Over Again. 195 1. 

Psihlished by the local 

National Library Week Committee 

and printed and presented by members of 

the Ijetchworth Master Printers* Association